Katrina Survivor Lauds Bush in What Democrats Call PR Stunt

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 24, 2006

Four more years? Rockey Vaccarella thinks so. President Bush's own staff, though, isn't convinced.

The president played host to Vaccarella, a Hurricane Katrina survivor trailed by a documentary crew, for coffee at the White House yesterday to demonstrate concern for those still afflicted a year after the storm. Vaccarella, it turned out, had another idea in mind as well.

"I just wish the president could have another term in Washington," he said as cameras rolled on the South Lawn, where the two appeared together after coffee.

"Wait a minute," Bush interjected with a laugh.

"You know, I wish you had another four years, man," Vaccarella said. "If we had this president for another four years, I think we'd be great."

Bush did not disagree, constitutional term limits notwithstanding. But his spokeswoman later made it clear that in a White House exhausted by war, terrorism and all manner of disasters, both meteorological and political, the idea of a third term didn't stir much enthusiasm. "Believe me," deputy press secretary Dana Perino joked, "I think staff thinks that two are plenty."

The Vaccarella visit was part of a preemptive effort by the White House to fend off fresh criticism of the administration's handling of Katrina as the first anniversary approaches. Vaccarella praised the government effort while saying he "wanted to remind the president that the job's not done, and he knows that." Bush plans to travel to the Gulf Coast region for two days next week to tour damaged areas, and he vowed to cut through any "bureaucratic hurdles" holding up reconstruction efforts.

"I know we're coming up on the first-year anniversary of Katrina and it's a time to remember," the president said. Noting that Vaccarella and others lost their homes, Bush added: "It's a time to recommit ourselves to helping them. But I also want people to remember that a one-year anniversary is just that, because it's going to require a long time to help these people rebuild."

Democrats quickly responded with a statement noting that Vaccarella once ran for local office as a Republican and with a report blasting the administration's post-Katrina work.

"In our Gulf Coast, the tens of thousands of Hurricane Katrina survivors are still engaged in an unparalleled struggle to rebuild their lives," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.). "Meanwhile, back in Washington, President Bush is holding a public relations blitz that the survivors of Katrina can ill afford."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company